2015 battle for Benue Reps Constituency: How contenders stand

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By WALE AJETUNMOBI

In this piece, WALE AJETUNMOBI examines the chances of the House of Representatives’
aspirants for the Ado, Ogbadibo and Okpokwu Federal Constituency of Benue State for 2015.

THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is yet to permit political campaigns for the 2015 polls. But, aspirants for various elective positions across the country have started underground lobbying, consultations and subtle campaigns to actualise their dreams.
The Federal Constituency of Ado, Ogbadibo and Okpokwu of Benue State, has caught the bug, with so many aspirants warming up. While many nurse the ambition, only very few may eventually declare their ambition. Hon. Saleh Hassan Anthony, the member representing Ado/Ogadibo/Okpokwu Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, has a tough battle on his hands. The smooth-talking Saleh wants a return ticket to the hallowed Green Chamber of the National Assembly, a move, being hotly resisted by his constituents.
The mountain on his way to a possible stay in the House beyond 2015 is a 2010 power-sharing agreement by stakeholders in his constituency, making representation at the House rotational among the three local government areas in the constituency, with each local government limited to doing a single term. Another major obstacle is the array of formidable and tested political gladiators battle ready to oust him, if he fails to leave at the end of his four- year tenure.
Harried by the unusual tension, acrimony and bitterness associated with the election of the candidate of the federal constituency and the damage it is doing to the unity of the people, elders and stakeholders of the Peoples Democratic Party from the three local government areas had met in 2010 at Okpoga, the zonal headquarters, to work out an acceptable, fair, just, and less rancourous method for choosing the candidate.
 At the meeting which was attended by the Benue State PDP chairman, Dr. Agbo Emmanuel, former Senate President, Senator Ameh Ebute, the Hon. Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, the then incumbent member of the House of Representatives, Hon David Idoko who was aspiring for an unprecedented third term from Okpokwu, Chief Obande Obeya, Chief John Ochoga, Chief Ekpe Ogbu, Dr. Francis Ottah Agbo, Hon. Bernard Ochepa, Hon. Chris Adaba Aba, Hon. Hassan Saleh, Hon. Innocent Agasi, Elder Oche Onazi, Barr. Jacob Ogwuche and others, it was decided that beginning from 2011, each local government area shall be entitled to a single term. And since Ado had had it between 1999 and 2003, Okpokwu 2003 and 2011, from 2011 to 2014, the position of House of Representatives would go to Ogbadibo which had not enjoyed it since the inception of PDP.
Hassan Saleh, who was present at the meeting, is the first beneficiary of the agreement. He hails from Ogbadibo while his predecessor, David Idoko, is from Okpokwu Local Government Area. The decisions which were applauded by all the critical stakeholders in the constituency further gave Ado local government area the right to produce the 2015-representative for the constituency.
This, Hon. Saleh is determined to set aside. He wants a second tenure and he believes, he can clinch it with the support of the Senate President David Mark and Minister for Interior Abba Moro who are his principal backers. Ordinarily, the support of these two political heavyweights could have guaranteed him victory in any contest. However, a number of equally important factors are stalked against his emergence as the party’s candidate. Not all the elders are in a hurry to breach an agreement they were all party to simply because of the personal interest of the Senate President who hails from another federal constituency. Another factor stalked against Hon. Saleh is his alleged appalling personal relationship with his constituents which he is making no effort to rectify.
Many of his constituents accuse him of alienating himself from them, of been too elitist and concentrating only on building a good relationship with the Senate President, believing that the latter is all he needs to secure a second term. They point to the stoppage of the constituency briefing which he did just once, his dour attitude and poor response to their plight and his inability to connect with their true feelings and aspirations.
And above all, he has not been able to sponsor any bill that has been passed into law just as there is no federal project in old Okpoga attributed to him. Hon. Saleh who is the vice-chairman Aids, Loans and Debt Management Committee of the House would have to contend with Dr. Francis Ottah Agbo, a media consultant and honourary Special Adviser to the Bayelsa State governor on Media and Strategy; Chief Ekpe Ogbu, Special Adviser to the Benue state governor on Public Utilities; Hon. Chris Adaba Aba, a business mogul and original winner of the party 2011 primaries and a new man on the block, Matthew Atu, a former banker.
Of the four contestants, two; Agbo and Ogbu are from Ado local government area while Aba and Atu are from Ogbadibo. Dr. Francis Ottah Agbo Dr. Francis Ottah Agbo, a writer, former editor and media consultant, is a brilliant, well-connected and intrepid young man who prides himself as a progressive politician of conviction.
Agbo is a popular grassroots politician, a flamboyant philanthropist who had positively touched the lives of many people especially indigent students, orphans and widows through his NGO: Enayi Ottah Foundation. He is also a community leader and National Leader of Ari People’s Congress, the umbrella socio-cultural organization for the people of Ijigban, Ekile and Ulayi: the clear front-runner in the race to the Green Chamber. Dr. Agbo in the last two years, has helped to build the party so much that he has distributed over 300 motorcycles to the people; majority of whom are PDP members, and donated a four-runner Jeep to the PDP chairman of Ado Local Government.
In spite of his fame and connection, observers say Agbo remains humble and accessible to the people at the bottom of the pyramid, a virtue his admirers believe is his major strength. Another unique selling point for Agbo is his closeness to the powers that be in Benue State. He is also believed to have the deep wallet to prosecute the election. His weakness, according to political watchers, could be his politics of service delivery which many politicians in Ado believe could send them to Siberia and expose them to the anger of the electorate.
Recently, a group, “Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadibo Critical Stakeholders, comprising party elders, past and serving elected and appointed political office holders, party officials and youth activists from the three local government areas formally asked Dr. Agbo to vie for the seat, promising to mobilize popular support for him. The people who affirmed the sanctity of the 2010 zoning resolution of elders and leaders of the party from the federal constituency which zoned the seat to the people of Ado stated that given his pedigree and history of accomplishments and commitment to the cause of the down-trodden, Agbo who was the image maker of the erstwhile Minister for Information and Communications, late Dr. Dora Akunyili, is most eminently qualified to represent them. Aside this, Agbo hails from zone B part of Ado that is supposed to produce the next House of Reps. After consulting with party elders, youth and women groups in the federal constituency, Dr. Agbo more popularly called “moving train” by his admirers finally accepted to throw his hat into the ring and couched his campaign as Liberation 2015.
He said he has the character, capacity/competence and connection required to provide a purposeful leadership that would liberate his people from the shackles of ignorance and affliction, usher in concrete developmental deliverables, and with the collaboration of compatriots, make the federal constituency the centre of gravity in the politics of Benue state and deepen democracy and social justice if elected.
Already, the media strategist has formally inaugurated his 35- man campaign directorate headed by a seasoned politician, former Commissioner in the George Akume administration and Okpokwu Council Chairman, Barr, Jacob Ogwuche. At press time Agbo was the first aspirant to constitute his campaign team as well as the first to notify the party leadership in his local government of his intention. Chief Ekpe Ogbu Though many PDP critical stakeholders and analysts see Chief Ekpe Ogbu as a spoiler in the race, he is a grassroots politician.
The three time chairman of Ado local government council, Chief Ogbu is a close ally of the state deputy governor, Chief Steven Lawani and owes his present position as Special Adviser to the Governor to the man popularly called Ochagwu K’ Idoma. After upstaging and driving his erstwhile political master, Chief John Ochoga into exile and after joining forces with Hon.
Bernard Ochepa, Dr. Francis Agbo and others to install the present Council chairman of the local government, Hon. Alex Ogaba, he now prides himself as leader of Ado politics. This does not go down well with the people who see him as a politician that is too desperate for power. Though, he is yet to officially declare his intention to contest the House of Representatives seat to the PDP but he recently declared his intention to a select politician of Ado extraction in Makurdi.
What is not clear is whether he will go into a contest that also has Hon. Chris Adaba Aba as a contestant. When Aba contested the 2011 party primaries, he, (Ogbu) was the Director-General of his campaign organisation. In fact it is believed that it was Aba who facilitated his appointment through Lawani. His major problem in Ado might be the break-up of the once powerful coalition which he led and which brought in the current council chairman. Dr. Agbo who was once a member of that coalition has since pulled out of the group with many influential power brokers.
Ado people also believe Chief Ogbu had dominated the scene for too long and cornered all major positions in the council to his siblings and relatives. Apart from having his god son, Alex Ogaba as chairman, for example, Ekpe Ogbu’s brother is Council secretary, his cousin is Deputy Leader of the House, another cousin of his SA to Governor, the PDP ward chairman of Ukwonyo since inception is his uncle and many more.
Many people from the sister local governments still see him as local man who will be buried in the crowd at the National Assembly ostensibly because of his lack of exposure. And above all, Ekpe Ogbu is from zone A in Ado, an axis which had tasted the seat through Hon. Sam Obande. The singular reason that he has not resigned a month to the PDP primaries shows that he may not run afterall.
But his major asset is experience and political trick! Hon. Chris Adaba Aba Chris Adaba Aba is a philantropist and businessman. Like Dr. Agbo he is the people’s man any time any day. Mr. Aba is a friend of the two top-most men in the state, Aba had the foresight of keeping and maintaining the campaign structure even after the 2011 primaries which he won but was forced to surrender to the second placed Hassan Saleh over the controversy of his academic qualifications. If financial muscle is the only factor in determining who emerges the winner, no one would withstand the ebullient politician popularly called “mad lion” by friends and foes. However, there are other factors that are giving the lion goose pimples.
For now, he is still consulting and has not yet formally declared his interest. Political watchers of the federal constituency ascribe this to his unwillingness to breach the 2010 agreement which they say is sacrosanct. If and when the Otukpa born politician decides to run again, it would be in response to the intense pressure being brought to bear on him by people from his Ward who are not happy with the manner Hon. Saleh upstaged him in 2011.
His major obstacle is the Okpoga agreement which bares Ogbadibo from the contest and the determination of the Ado people not to concede the chance to any person from another local government area. Indeed, it was in the spirit of the zoning arrangement that Mad lion nicked all Ado votes in 2011 primaries without a single Ado person contesting. The thinking of Ado power brokers is that no Ogbadibo person should stand election because according to Elder James Onazi, what is good for the goose is good for the gander! Mr. Matthew Atu Mr. Atu also comes from Ogbadibo Local Government Area. Though, of all the aspirants, he has the least experience on the political turf, the former banker is going round key political figures in the constituency and gradually building up a support base for his aspiration. He hails from Owukpa district while Aba and Saleh are from Otukpa.

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